Brisket vs Chuck Roast: The Differences Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
December 21, 2022

Brisket and chuck roast are both popular cuts of beef; In my opinion, they're two of the best cuts of beef to smoke.

A big reason for why some people confuse these cuts is because chuck roast can be smoked like brisket; The resulting taste and texture are eerily reminiscent of brisket which has resulted in the namesake: "The Poor Man's Brisket."

These cuts have distinct differences from one another. Aside from obvious differences like anatomical location on the steer and size, they're also different in terms of cost.

What is Brisket?

The brisket primal is taken from the breast section of the cow, under the first five ribs.

brisket in relation to chuck primal
Beef brisket in relation to beef chuck

It's best described as the toughest cut of meat on the entire animal. Since cows don't have collarbones, the pectoral muscles support roughly 60% of the body weight.

A whole beef brisket is comprised of two muscles - the point and the flat. These muscles are separated by a seam of fat and will weigh anywhere from 8-20lbs.

On a single steer, you get two briskets.

If you're looking for a more in-depth explanation of what brisket is, be sure to check out my other article.

What is Chuck Roast?

The chuck roast is a sub-primal cut taken from the chuck primal of the cow. It's sometimes called the clod or the forequarter of the animal (neck, shoulder-blade, and upper arm).

chuck roast location in relation to brisket
Beef chuck in relation to brisket

The chuck roasts are essentially extensions of the beef rib primal - which are where beef rib steaks come from.

This is actually the main reason butchers will separate the chuck primal from the beef rib primal at rib bones 4/5 - the actual ribeye muscle or "longissimus dorsi" muscle only starts to show up at around rib 4.

A whole beef chuck eye roast can be further fabricated into several cuts, including the chuck roast.

The size of the roasts are at the discretion of the butcher but typically from a chuck eye roast you'll get around 6-8, two-pound chuck roasts.

Meaning from a single steer, we get 12-16 chuck roasts.

The Major Differences Between Brisket and Chuck Roast

Aside from anatomical location there are also specific differences between these two cuts of meat.

These differences manifest themselves in the taste, size, and price.

The Price Difference

Beef brisket and chuck roast aren't all that different in terms of pricing - especially when you look at the price in terms of cost per pound.

This pricing can change based on where you're from and your trimming preferences.

For instance, I'm from New Hampshire and where I'm from I can't source Choice or Prime packer briskets.

USDA choice grade chuck roasts are common; Usually I'll find them in my local Walmart Supercenter.

In a recipe I wrote back in February 2022 for Poor Man's Brisket, the USDA Choice Angus Chuck roast cost me $4.97/lb.

chuck roast in package
Chuck Roast $4.97/lb

A USDA Choice Grade brisket from Wild Fork Foods (where I now source my briskets from) is $3.98/lb.

However, this number is sort of inaccurate with regards to brisket - mainly because people forget about trimming; With chuck roast, there is minimal, if any trimming.

To illustrate:

I typically look for a brisket that is 12-13 lbs - this size will fit on my Weber kettle and won't take forever for me to smoke.

A 12-13 lb brisket will usually result in 2-3 lbs of trim. Meaning your price per pound is actually around $4.77/lb.

Choice chuck roast is usually in the range of $3-5 per pound.

Meaning, brisket and chuck roasts they're roughly the same price per pound.

Size of the Meat

A whole packer brisket weighs anywhere from 8-20 lbs; A chuck roast weighs 2-2.5 lbs. On a whole cow we get 2 briskets and 12-16 chuck roasts.

To help illustrate size differences, I looked looked in my Camera to find pictures of brisket and chuck roast, both shot from the same location, with the same perspective.

Here's a chuck roast:

chuck roast size comparison

Here's a brisket:

brisket size comparison

As I hope is readily apparent, brisket is much bigger than chuck roast.

Meaning, the upfront cost of a brisket will always be higher simply due to its inherent size.

Size in Relation to Price:

Say you bought a 12 lb choice grade brisket for $3.98/lb - that's $47.76; With trimming you lose 2 lbs of edible meat and your true cost per pound is $4.77 or $57.24 for the brisket.

A 2 lb chuck roast is $9.94.

This is the primary reason people call it a "Poor Man's Brisket" - a singular chuck roast is 5.8x cheaper and 5-6x smaller.

This amount works out well for someone who is looking to have beef brisket but doesn't want to eat 9-10 lbs of meat.

If you're looking to substitute brisket for a smaller cut of meat, this article outlines your best options.

Taste Differences

To me, chuck roast has a more forward beefy flavor than brisket. When someone hears they're eating beef, those are the flavors they're anticipating.

Since the chuck eye roast is an extension of the rib primal, you could even equate the "beefy-ness" to something like a ribeye steak.

The above is due to how the fat is distributed in the meat. Chuck roast will tend to have better intramuscular fat distribution, where-as the majority of fat on brisket is subcutaneous.

With that said, when people trim brisket they leave around 1/4 inch of fat so that the fat can render. The result is a yellow, pillowy fat that's super appetizing.

brisket yellow rendered fat

Chuck roast has no fat cap and can't achieve this type of richness in your eating experience.

If anything, chuck roast when smoked like a brisket is better compared solely to the brisket flat slices.

With that said, People do cube up chuck roast to smoke like burnt ends - which actually come from the point of a brisket. The idea being you can get rub on all parts of the cube. However, they're not nearly as rich as true brisket burnt ends.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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